Comforting: A woman who has had an abortion comforts a 22-year-old about to go through the ordeal at a Johannesburg clinic in this file picture. A new bill on abortion will be discussed in Parliament next year. Picture: THE TIMES
Comforting: A woman who has had an abortion comforts a 22-year-old about to go through the ordeal at a Johannesburg clinic in this file picture. A new bill on abortion will be discussed in Parliament next year. Picture: THE TIMES

The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill has been tabled in Parliament, paving the way for an emotional debate on access to abortion when MPs return to their duties next year.

The draft legislation is a private-member’s bill introduced by African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Cheryllyn Dudley, who previously tried to restrict women’s access to abortion by proposing an amendment to the Constitution to include the right to life of the unborn child.

Her bill, which was published for comment in July, would provide for mandatory counselling of women seeking abortions, including showing them images of foetuses in wombs.

The draft legislation is intended to tighten conditions for allowing women to have abortions in second trimesters, by requiring that social workers must agree with doctors’
determinations that continued pregnancy would significantly affect women’s social or economic circumstances.

And it would scrap provisions that permit third-trimester abortions if there is a risk of injury to foetuses. Dudley said that the ACDP’s position was that life was sacred and women should not have access to abortion on demand. "What I personally would like to see is that rights are balanced, so the rights of the mom and baby are in context," she said. "My intention [is] to make positive changes to the law which hasn’t been looked at since 1996."

Of the proposal for mandatory counselling, she said: "A lot of people are concerned that people who want abortions will change their minds. What would be so tragic about that?"

The Department of Health’s director-general for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and maternal and child health, Yogan Pillay, said the department would be opposing the bill.

"We will not support the bill because we see it as a slippery slope to decreasing access to abortion," he said.

"While she [Dudley] may think photos of the foetus might be helpful, it could well blackmail women into changing [their minds]. The amendments will put a big guilt trip on women who want abortions," he said.

Women faced unwanted pregnancies for reasons that included failed contraception and sexual violence.

The government did not want to see access to abortion made more difficult than it already was.

The focus should rather be on ensuring that women did not face barriers in obtaining the services they needed, the director-general said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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